Deep Sorriness Atonement Song by Glyn Maxwell (with notes from “Blueridge Journal”)

(for missed appointment, BBC North, Manchester)

The man who sold Manhattan for a halfway decent bangle,
He had talks with Adolf Hitler and could see it from his angle,
And he could have signed the Quarrymen but didn’t think they’d make it
So he bought a cake on Pudding Lane and thought “Oh well I’ll bake it”

But his chances they were slim
And his brothers they were Grimm,
And he’s sorry, very sorry,
But I’m sorrier than him.
And the drunken plastic surgeon who said “I know, let’s enlarge ’em!”
And the bloke who told the Light Brigade “Oh what the hell, let’s charge ’em”,
The magician with an early evening gig on the Titanic
And the Mayor who told the people of Atlantis not to panic,

And the Dong about his nose
And the Pobble re his toes,
They’re all sorry, very sorry
But I’m sorrier than those.
And don’t forget the Bible, with the Sodomites and Judas,
And Onan who discovered something nothing was as rude as,
And anyone who reckoned it was City’s year for Wembley.
And the kid who called Napoleon a shortarse in assembly,

And the man who always smiles
Cause he knows I have his files,
They’re all sorry, really sorry,
But I’m sorrier by miles.

And Robert Falcon Scott who lost the race to the Norwegian,
And anyone who’s ever split a pint with a Glaswegian,
Or told a Finn a joke or spent an hour with a Swiss-German,
Or got a mermaid in the sack and found it was a merman,

Or him who smelt a rat,
And got curious as a cat,
They’re all sorry, deeply sorry,
But I’m sorrier than that.

All the people who were rubbish when we needed them to do it,
Whose wires crossed, whose spirit failed, who ballsed it up or blew it,
All notches of nul points and all who have a problem Houston,
At least they weren’t in Kensington when they should have been at Euston.

For I didn’t build the Wall
And I didn’t cause the Fall
But I’m sorry, Lord, I’m sorry,
I’m the sorriest of all.

Notes:
‘The man who sold Manhattan for a halfway decent bangle’: In 1626 Peter Minuit, the first director general of New Netherland province, is said to have purchased the island from the local Indians (the Manhattan, a tribe of the Wappinger Confederacy) with trinkets and cloth valued at 60 guilders, then worth about 1 1/2 pounds (0.7 kg) of silver.

‘He had talks with Adolf Hitler and could see it from his angle’: Probably a reference to Neville Chamberlain, who returned from negotiations with Hitler in Munich and famously declared “I believe it is peace for our time”. It wasn’t.

‘And he could have signed the Quarrymen but didn’t think they’d make it’: ‘The Quarrymen’ was one of the early names of the greatest rock group of all time, the Beatles. Manager Brian Epstein sent demo tapes to literally dozens of recording companies before landing a contract with EMI/Parlophone.

‘So he bought a cake on Pudding Lane and thought “Oh well I’ll bake it”‘: The Great Fire of London, in 1666, started in a bakery on Pudding Lane. (It ended on Pie Lane, but that’s a different matter altogether).

‘And the bloke who told the Light Brigade “Oh what the hell, let’s charge ’em”‘: The ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade, immortalized by Tennyson.

‘The magician with an early evening gig on the Titanic’: One can safely assume that the performance sank without a trace.

‘And the Mayor who told the people of Atlantis not to panic’: Famous last words.

‘And the Dong about his nose / And the Pobble re his toes’: The Dong with the Luminous Nose, and the Pobble who has no Toes are characters from the mysterious, twilit world of Edward Lear’s imagination.

‘And don’t forget the Bible, with the Sodomites and Judas, And Onan who discovered something nothing was as rude as’: Sodomy: copulation with a member of the same sex or with an animal Onanism: masturbation, Judas: one who betrays under the guise of friendship.

‘And anyone who reckoned it was City’s year for Wembley’: Manchester City have never won the F. A. Cup.

‘And the kid who called Napoleon a shortarse in assembly’: The widespread notion of Napoleon’s shortness lies in the inaccurate translation of old French feet (“pieds de roi”) to English. The French measure of five foot two (5′ 2″), recorded at his autopsy, actually translates into five feet six and one half inches (5′ 6.5″) in English measure, which was about the average height of the Frenchman of his day. It’s also probable that the grenadiers of his Imperial Guard, with whom he “hung out,” were very tall men, therefor creating the illusion that Napoleon was very short.

‘And Robert Falcon Scott who lost the race to the Norwegian’: Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole about a month before Scott’s doomed expedition.

‘And anyone who’s ever split a pint with a Glaswegian’: Glaswegians are notorious for their tightfistedness…

‘Or told a Finn a joke’: … Finns for their lack of humour…

‘or spent an hour with a Swiss-German’: … and Germans for their boringness.

‘All notches of nul points’: Probably a reference to the annual Eurovision song contest, where a really bad song could get nul points. (Songs that get booed even on Eurovision – ooh, horrendous thought.

‘and all who have a problem Houston’: Astronaut Jack Swigert, command module pilot of the unsuccessful Apollo 13 mission, reported the first signs of trouble with this marvellous piece of understatement: “Houston, we’ve had a problem here”. A vivid account of the subsequent rescue can bo found here: http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/history/apollo/apollo-13/apollo-13.html.
‘in Kensington when they should have been at Euston’:

Kensington: the wrong station, and Euston, the right one for trains from London to Manchester.

From: http://www.blueridgejournal.com/poems/gm-sorry.htm

Date: 1998

By: Glyn Maxwell (1962- )

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